When I started my career back in the late 1990s, I was hopeful I would be seen as a leader in innovation in my field. All my life I have been told I’m highly creative. I’ve been admitted to programs throughout my early childhood that were designed for students who were innovative and creative. I have a “type A” personality, so I’m highly motivated to succeed. But when I got to my first real job, I found that it was much more routine than I ever expected work would be. I was much less creative than I expected.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my job and I stayed at that job for about a decade. There are some aspects of a routine that are very gratifying. There are some aspects of completing projects on a deadline that are gratifying. But what I craved was the ability and the freedom to innovate and try things that were completely out of the norm for that organization. And for the first few years I was actually feeling like I was being held back because I wasn’t being encouraged to innovate. This wasn’t a knock on my supervisors over the years. Quite the opposite. But it demonstrated that the organization was not ready to have people thinking completely outside of what they were already doing.
So after about a decade, I made a move and thought that I would find an organization that was much more open to trying new things. I was optimistic at first, but after a couple months I was back in the same spot I was the first time. I had accepted a very routine, highly expected role in a great organization, but in it I was not innovating much. I began to think that all of this talk about wanting employees who are innovators is rubbish.
After a few more years, and a couple more HR leadership positions, I finally realized that organizations say they want one thing in a candidate or in a hire, but yet they really don’t know what to do with that hire once they get them. For example, if you have an organization with a culture that is not highly innovative and the leaders are not operating in a highly innovative manner, how can we expect them to hire, train, and develop people who are creative?
Become an Entrepreneur- This solution may not be right for everyone. In fact, it’s actually a challenging path. I chose to become my own boss, and to source my own work, because I’m the type of person who is self-directed. But I’ve also learned over my many years supervising teams, large and small, that you can create employees who are more creative and more innovative than they ever thought possible. Now there are a couple ways you can do this . You can take classes on innovation, you can watch shows on how to be more creative, and you can scour the Internet for information. For me, and many of my team members, I found that having something tangible that you can hold in your hand as a reminder that creativity is important is what works for me.
Inspirational books- Over the years, I’ve read a couple different books on the topic of innovation and creativity. One that stands out for me is called Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide To Working Your Creative Magic by Lisa Congdon. This book is a guide with stories of actual innovators and creators that gives examples of how you can step out of what you are doing, in your normal day-to-day role, and approach things with a different mindset. My challenge to each of you is to find a way to be more creative today. Whether that is using this book, or a host of other books on creativity, find one that you connect with and revisit it often.
Shake up routine- Many of us have spent the past 18+ months working from home. With all new distractions, I wonder if this routine “shake up” has made us more, or less, creative. Have you thought about it? It can be unsettling to work in a new environment because many of us strive to get back to a routine we are comfortable with. But in my leadership experience, when you shake up the routine of where people work or times they work, it sparks creativity and innovation. One that we often miss is working in nature. Whether I am walking down to the creek behind my house, sitting by the lake at the local park, or walking at the track, I find ways to use nature to my advantage. Go out in nature and think through work ideas for a big project, for example. The act of changing the routine can be enough to spark a breakthrough idea.
Today I challenge you get up away from your desk. Step away from your workspace and take a walk, take a drive to the park or the zoo. Find time and space in nature to just think, with no end goal in mind. You might find that you have one of the most creative ideas of your career. Let me know in the comments if getting out of your typical workspace has been a way for you to spark creativity and innovation at some point in your career. I’d also love to hear other ways that you find creativity in your workday.